A fuel malfunction almost caused an F-16 pilot to eject over Islamic State group-held territory last year — but a savvy KC-135 tanker crew saved him from abandoning his aircraft over enemy territory.
Being careful to not disclose too much information, the Air Force said a Stratotanker deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas was refueling some A-10s in the area when the F-16 flew up in need of a helping hand.
Because of a technical problem the jet couldn't sustain over 500 pounds of fuel at a time, even though the KC-135 was "expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds," Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, said in a release.
An F-16 has a fuel capacity of 7,000 pounds internally, with a typical capacity of 12,000 pounds with two external tanks, according to the Air Force.
Instead of calling it quits on the aircraft, the pilot alerted the tanker of his malfunction, and the crew escorted the jet to its base "while refueling every 15 minutes to avoid an emergency."
"Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could've been an international tragedy, a feel-good news story," Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander, said. "In my thoughts, what motivates them is a higher calling to be the best at the mission and take care of their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen," he said.
The Air Force began its first manned airstrikes against the terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in August. Six Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to fly combat missions under Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon's name for operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq also began using F-16s purchased from the U.S. to fight ISIS in September.
In October, 12 A-10s and airmen are with the 75th Fighter Squadron from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, replaced the fighter jets in the mission.
Recently, the KC-135 Stratotanker refueling fleet at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, completed more than 14,700 sorties for operations tied to Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan and Inherent Resolve. Over 60 KC-135s took part in achieving over 100,000 combat hours, the Air Force said.
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.